Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
2 December 2013

Coalition accused of redefining fuel poverty to cut numbers

The planned change to the definition in the Energy Bill would cut the number of households classed as fuel poor from 3.2 million to 2.4 million.

By George Eaton

The coalition is seeking to demonstrate its commitment to helping “hardworking people with energy bills” (as ever, one wonders, what about less hardworking people?) by formally announcing its planned changes to green levies. It promises that the average customer will save £12 through the transfer of the Warm Homes Discount into general taxation (Labour’s response is that the government is giving with one hand and taking with another), £30-£35 through a reduction in the cost of the Energy Company Obligation and £5 through savings to network costs, meaning an overall reduction of around £50. Labour has responded by noting that, with the average energy bill up £120, prices will still be around £70 higher than last year. Unless George Osborne has something extra up his sleeve for Thursday’s Autumn Statement, the Tories are likely to find it harder than they hope to neutralise Miliband’s price freeze. 

The government’s cost-of-living drive has also been undermined by the claim that it is seeking to reduce the number of households classed as fuel poor by changing the official definition. A report from the cross-party Commons environmental audit committee notes that the Energy Bill includes a clause redefining fuel poverty from any household that needs to spend more than 10% of its income “to maintain an adequate level of warmth” to any household that has “above average” fuel costs that leave them with “a residual income below the official poverty line”. The effect of this change would be to reduce the number of households classed as fuel poor from 3.2 million to 2.4 million, or from 15% to 11%. This is because the new definition excludes any household that spends less than average on energy to keep warm (as many poorer families do). 

Labour MP Joan Walley, who chairs the commitee, said: “The government is shifting the goalposts on fuel poverty so that official statistics record far fewer households as fuel-poor.

“The changes to the fuel poverty definition and target, in part being made through amendments to the Energy Bill, should be stopped unless the government is prepared to make a public commitment to end fuel poverty altogether.”

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change has responded by insisting that “the changes to the fuel poverty definition helps to get a better understanding of the causes and depth of fuel poverty, and to target policies more effectively”. Energy minister Michael Fallon has previously told parliament: “The new definition allows us to understand much better what the actual depth of fuel poverty is in a particular household rather than simply the extent of it”.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But whether or not the change is well-intentioned, the perception that the coalition (which has become renowned for its abuse of statistics) is attempting to disguise the true number in fuel poverty is not one it should welcome. 

Content from our partners
How are new rail networks boosting the economy?
Setting the stage for action on climate finance
Drowning in legacy tech: the move to sustainable computing – with Chrome Enterprise